Why financial literacy will unite Americans
April 8, 2021
By Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, Chair & President, Charles Schwab Foundation
The COVID-19 global health and economic crisis, along with widespread social unrest and a historic reckoning with racial injustice, has exposed fractures in our society. These forces have laid bare vast inequities in wealth, income and opportunity. They’ve shown with dramatic speed how precarious financial security is for millions of Americans. Americans are hurting and frightened of what lies ahead. We’re split on fundamental societal issues, both their causes and solutions, and as a result, a lot of ink has been spilled on what divides us as opposed to what unites us.
"I believe that financial literacy is one issue that we can all rally around and find consensus on because it can increase our resilience, expand opportunities and promote economic freedom for Americans from all walks of life—regardless of who they are, where they live or where they come from. Bipartisan policy solutions and a national strategy will be key to healing these wounds."
Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, Chair & President, Charles Schwab Foundation
We’re at an inflection point in our country’s history, and research shows that Americans want and need more financial literacy to help them navigate an increasingly complex financial landscape. No, it’s not a panacea to all of what ails today’s society, but being able to make sound decisions about managing money isn’t a “nice to have” or elective life-skill. It’s a critical building block to improving the ability to withstand financial shocks, have control over day-to-day finances and empower historically excluded communities. As we look ahead, I predict that all Americans, regardless of ideology, will come together to advance unifying causes—and one of those causes will be financial literacy, which can help people attain the lives they want to lead and make us stronger as a nation.
Here is why I think financial literacy will bring us together:
1. We need to create equal opportunities for everyone, and financial literacy is a crucial piece of the puzzle.
According to Schwab’s financial literacy survey, 89 percent of American adults say that lack of financial literacy contributes to bigger social issues, including wealth, racial and gender inequality. I agree, and research certainly backs this up. These are issues we have faced for years, yet no one talks about financial literacy as being part of the solution. To combat these issues, we need to provide access to financial education in historically excluded communities, which have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and the events of this past year. Making financial literacy a bipartisan policy priority will help us bridge this gap. Every American must acquire financial skills, knowledge and confidence to fully participate in our dynamic economy.
Financial illiteracy creates a ripple effect. Not only does it affect the way we manage our money on a daily basis, but it can also impact whether a child is able to attend college, a worker’s ability to secure a job with a living wage and a woman’s capacity to take full ownership of her finances. Through my own work and experiences, I have seen the positive impact that financial literacy can make on communities in need.
Our Money Matters: Make It Count program in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America has reached more than one million teens—many from underserved communities. Survey results show that Club youth between ages 13 to 18 experienced a 35 percent average increase in their saving and investing smarts, a 27 percent increase in their credit and debt savviness and a 16 percent increase in their college planning knowledge. Financial literacy is a powerful tool for social justice because it helps equip people with the skills they need to make smart money decisions, improve their lives and thrive and compete in our evolving world.
2. Americans want financial literacy, and more lawmakers recognize this.
Financial literacy has broad appeal, with 63 percent of Americans saying they want to prioritize financial education. It’s a nonpartisan issue that has been increasingly recognized at all levels of government. Twenty-one states—controlled by both sides of the aisle—require high school students to take a course in personal finance. Additionally, through my work on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability and President George W. Bush’s Council on Financial Literacy, I’ve seen recognition of the importance of financial literacy at the highest levels.
During my time serving on advisory committees for the Bush and Obama Administrations, I worked alongside leaders across the aisle and across industries to encourage financial literacy in the workforce, in schools and in communities big and small. It’s crucial that financial education starts early, but also that resources and support continue to be made available for adults as they pass through different stages in their life. It’s not just for kids. I’m optimistic that our representatives can build upon past precedents to help all Americans prepare to meet the future with confidence.
3. Financial literacy improves our collective economic health and prepares us for the future.
The pandemic is affecting everyone in one way or another, and it is having a deep impact on people’s financial health. Many of us are paying closer attention to how we manage our money. In fact, Charles Schwab’s 2020 Financial Literacy survey found that in the wake of COVID-19, Americans want to prioritize financial education in schools—even over health and wellness education.
Wealth inequities are exacerbated when our abilities to manage, grow, protect and re-build wealth are limited. This will inevitably slow our nation’s economic recovery if both sides of the aisle fail to prioritize it. It is integral to helping Americans prepare for, respond to and recover from unexpected events like the COVID-19 national emergency.
As our economy emerges from the pandemic, basic personal finance skills can help us stay prepared for whatever comes our way and keep our nation financially healthy. I look at it as an investment in our public infrastructure. Not only do we need increased opportunities for higher education and training, greater access to capital to build and rebuild businesses, and transparency and protections to enable consumers take on healthy levels of risk, but we also need investment in financial literacy efforts to enable us to power through unknown financial calamities we may face in the future. Financial literacy increases our progress by strengthening our individual and collective ability to reach new financial heights.
2021 and beyond
It is clear that financial literacy is an issue we need to address in all sectors of society—from the highest levels of the government to our local school districts. More importantly, it has a vital role to play in helping Americans navigate these uncharted waters. Looking to the future, we can advance this worthy cause at a minimum by making financial education a high school graduation requirement (but, it shouldn’t stop there) and bringing the public and private sectors together to collaborate on this issue. I am confident that in the years to come, we will unite around the need for financial literacy and set ourselves on the path to a stronger recovery and a brighter future for all.
The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax, legal or investment planning advice. Where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, consult with a qualified tax advisor, CPA, financial planner or investment manager.